The Apostle James– under the inspiration of God and from his own experience – knew that life is filled with challenges, obstacles, hardships and trials. In giving encouragement to all believers in Christ, he wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 3-5)
Many other New Testament writers also encouraged their readers to grow from “spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity.” (See Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:2; the writer of Hebrews 5: 12; and Peter in 1 Peter 2: 2 – each moving followers of Jesus to grow from “spiritual milk to solid food.”)
Facing trials of many kinds, and persevering though them, bring about spiritual growth and maturity. You and I do face trials of many kinds in our lives – psychological (worries, fears and uncertainties); financial (paychecks, layoffs, stock market ups and downs, retirement questions); relational (among husbands/wives, parents/children, siblings, and hard relationships at work); and theological (persecution and even the threat of death to those who love and follow Jesus).
Despite these trials, we have the assurance from God, Himself, “Blessed is the [child of God] who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1: 12) It is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in Jesus as our only Savior from sin, death and the power of the devil. The Spirit continues to keep us in this saving grace and faith.
In today’s scripture readings, we are reminded that trials come in two forms – testing which comes from God in order to strengthen our faith, and temptations from the devil with which the devil intends to kill and destroy us. In the Old Testament reading from Genesis 22, Abraham is severely tested by being called to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac. But just before he does so, the Angel of the Lord stops him and commends him for his faith and faithfulness in obeying God’s command. The gospel reading (Mark 1) mentions the account of Jesus being sorely tempted in the wilderness by the devil. Yet through the Word of God, Jesus triumphs over every wicked temptation of the devil!
James promises us that in His great love for us, God never tempts us. James warns us that “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
It is only through the “good and perfect gift… from the Father of heavenly lights” that we receive forgiveness, His mercy and the promise of eternal life. What hope, promise and joy is ours, that we can be “Tested Without Toppling” because “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created.” (James 1: 18)
Blessings in Christ,